The First Remainder Series by Joe Keppler

by Jim Andrews

his suite of seven visual poems by Joe Keppler presses and folds the line in new directions which, properly understood, should blow your mind. What I'd like to do in this introduction is share with you what I think is extraordinary about these poems. They also cohere and develop as a group in interesting ways we'll look at. First, though, I'd like to provide some context for them.

Joe publishes Poets.Painters.Composers. Critics.Sculptors.Slaves. from Seattle. It used to be called Poets.Painters.Composers. Since then, he's done much work in photography, criticism, and metal sculpture. He has been publishing this poly-artistic project since the 80's. Some issues are printed. Others are in sound, sculpture, posters, and other media. The visual poems published on are by Joe from a 2007 issue called "the first remainder series" which also included work by fifteen other artists. Of the series, Joe says:

In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul’s, Goodwill’s, and Salvation Army’s thrift-store poetics and aesthetics, Poets.Painters.Composers. Critics.Sculptors.Slaves. announces its first remainder series.
The basic idea is to use up our remainder of paper stock for small editions of poetry and art. The paper stock for our first remainder series is in various weights and colors though all of it is letter size (8.5” x 11”, 216mm x 279mm). Printed work will be issued in numbered editions of 25 or less...
Another of the project’s reasons for being has been to catch the differences between print and electronic media, and a working title for the project could have been, to paraphrase an important Walter Benjamin title, “The Work of Reproduction in an Age of Technological Art.”
Most of the electronic, PDF versions of the First Remainder Series are extant and available via email. Some actual, numbered prints are still obtainable from the artists or from Seattle’s Wessel & Lieberman Books."

Of his own work in this series, Joe says:

We fold. That is, we crease. We crease & increase, six new folds for the first remainder series. Differences among arts and technologies make actual creases in the print editions and simulated creases in the PDF files. In either case folding, a philosophical, sculptural, genetic, and poker activity, unfolds a metaphoric, heterogeneous poetics.

Such is the context. One of the remarkable things about this suite of poems is what Joe does with the line. When you talk about lines in poetry, you're usually talking about words. But in this suite of visual poems, they take on considerable additional meaning: as folds and spatializations, sculpturalizations of paper; the lines also function as “I”; and as lines of poetry; as horizon lines; as paths/roads/connectors; and as distinctions that separate things. The apparently very simple straight lines in these visual poems are part of a rich “metaphoric, heterogeneous” poetics of the line.


The suite begins with “Couplet”. As simple and elegant as can be. A couplet is a pair of lines. That's what we have here. They intersect; they have a point in common. It speaks to poetics. It's about poetry, in a sense. It's about the nature of the couplet. But it's open/suggestive and can be about many things. And, visually, it is aligned with abstract art.

“Couplet” is the simplest of the poems in the suite in its look—and may be the simplest in its look of any poems you will look at this week or possibly this year (or ever). The suite builds or grows like a biological entity or like an axiom system/geometry. There's a sense in the development of the poems of the generation of 'the ten thousand things'.

“Couplet” is followed by “Sight Event”. The word “am” is interesting in that we never say “we am” or “they am” or “he am” etc. If we use the word “am”, the word “I” precedes it. Always. Where there is “am” there is also “I”. “Am” is a verb, an action that only an “I” can do. “Am” expresses not simply “isness”, which can apply to things, but the peculiar action of the existence of an individual "I".

Site Event

In “Sight Event”, “am” is cut through the middle by a straight line. The straight line is now not simply a line of poetry, as it was in “Couplet”. It's also the “I” in “I am”. Joe states elsewhere that the line in “Sight Event” is a horizon line. The horizon of perception. The line of seeing along which we proceed and think, make our distinctions. The “I” in the middle of being; the “I” in the middle of “am”.

The poem “Sight Event” is a different way of looking at existence. It contains “I am” but with different perspectives than those normally afforded by the words “I am”.

I asked Joe via email why he arranged this piece vertically rather than horizontally. Why do it as he did it rather than have a vertical line between a normal arrangement of the word “am”? Here is part of his reply:

These poems on their original sheets are sculptures; the folded paper is tangible as well as visible. The page is background that becomes foreground. The different praxis between the temporal and the static arts is a topic we both consider important in our work.
The "am" refers to this sculptural aspect of my poetry and to the poem's reference as to the beingness of everything even the paper sheet or the computer screen and even thoughts about being. The horizontal line is the horizon, for we exist everyday with a rational spirit and a sensual body, an "am" as the sun rises and sets all day long. Sight event is the horizon line in art, and the fold in sculpture and philosophy. The fold is the poetic line translated for the screen. All is inherent in the poetics to be witnessed by the reader.

He says the poem is also a sculpture. The line is a horizon line that splits existence along various axes: the lightness and dark of the a.m./p.m.; the morning and the afternoon; it is also the “I” in “I am”; and it is a line in a poem. “Sight Event” has a compelling quality as an assertion of existence and as a meditation on existence. It is a fresh way of looking at existence. It has a kind of lyrical energy to it as a song of I amness that also comes with beautiful philosophical meditative energy.

“Sight Event” is almost as simple as “Couplet” in its look but not quite: it's mixing lines and letters. You'd want it after “Couplet” because “Couplet” is a better introduction to the line metaphor or conceit, as the metaphysical poets put it (a conceit is a kind of extended metaphor); having “Couplet” first prepares us to interpret the line in “Sight Event” as (among other things) a line of poetry and/or language of some sort.

Terza Rima

The next poem in the series is “Terza Rima”. We read in Wikipedia that “Terza rima is a rhyming verse stanza form that consists of an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme.” And we see three lines in the visual poem. We also read in Wikipedia that “Terza rima is a three-line stanza using chain rhyme in the pattern A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D.” We see in the visual poem that the two outer lines are the same as one another; the middle line is shaded differently than the other two. The three lines in the visual poem have the same sort of relation as any of the above three-line units such as A-B-A.

As in “Couplet”, then, we have a visual correlative of a literary form. And the shading indicates an X-Y-X rhyme scheme. More generally, the shading gives a sense of the shades of meaning and energy in poetic lines.

“Terza Rima” could have been placed between “Couplet” and “Sight Event”, but not before “Couplet” and not after “12 Specific Rectangles” or any of the others. It's level of complexity and its place in the argument or the development is just so.

The next poem in the suit is titled “12 Specific Squares”. In the PDF version, they are indeed quite square-like. In the HTML version, it depends on the size of the browser window whether they're squares or not. Which is why I renamed the HTML version “12 Specific Rectangles”. The print and PDF are static; the HTML version is dynamic.

12 Specific Rectangles

We could see this piece in relation with “Terza Rima”: the 12 squares/rectangles could be seen in relation to the 12 lines in the A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D form. We could also see some humour in the title. Squares, by their nature, are not really very specific. So we could see the poem as having something to say about the play between the general and the particular that goes on in poetry and other literary art.


We could also see the poem as introducing greater complexity, patterns made of the simpler ones that have preceded it. That pattern of growing complexity continues with the next poem, “8 Eights” where we see 8 rows of 8's, or 64 8's. This is a very composite composition. We are well on our way to the generation of the ten thousand things. If we add all the 8's together we get 512 which is 2 to the 9th power. So it could be expressed many different ways: 512 = 2*256 = 4*128 = 8*64 = 16*32 = 2*2*128 = 4*4*32 and so on. Digital information in computers is usually structured in relation to powers of 2. The binary system is all about powers of 2. A byte is eight bits. Contemporary computers are 64-bit machines. The poem can be seen as being about the relation of digital information and art. It acknowledges rich possibility while also rather humorously characterizing those possibilities.


The next poem, “Basho”, presents the title of one of Basho's collections of poetry, Narrow Road to the Deep North. Here we have the line as literal and figurative road or path. If I understand correctly, Basho's title refers to the path to enlightenment, the road of the spiritual journey, the path between earth and heaven as well as a literal path on a literal journey. The line is also a fold, as we read in an essay Joe wrote at the end of Fall Collection From Seattle about sculptural ideas of the page:

Folds are one way to sculpt the page for the poem. Here is a brown page folded in half lengthwise and dedicated to the Japanese poet, Basho, and his great work, Narrow Road to the Deep North. The fold in the paper refers of course to the narrow road. His book title’s letters–except H, which is like a barrier or a bridge–split on each side of the fold to indicate the two sides of the poet’s path on the narrow road. Thus his narrow road is through the alphabet, the words he titles his poetic journey.

By the time we read “Basho”, we have seen the suite develop a language of the line and letter to the point where we read “Basho” quite differently than we would were it the first poem in the sequence. We are prepared to look at that language strung out along that vertical line as having much more meaning than we would otherwise. The poem looks complex compared to the earlier ones.

Of the final poem in the suite, “ODE”, Joe says:

It consists of four corner brackets pasted to a stiff sheet with a small “o” printed on it. The numbered print edition has metal brackets and the pdf simulated brackets.

Joe has an interesting dule of love poems including several poems in several media that consist 'simply' of the word 'love'. For instance, when I first met him in 1986, he did a performance that included a poem that consisted of uttering the word 'love' periodically till the insistence became uncomfortable.


The 15-copy print edition of The First Remainder Series, which includes "ODE", actually has metal brackets, then. Joe has mainly been creating metal sculptures for the last several years. A bit of metal going on in a love poem sounds about right. The poem then relates to his metal sculpture practice but also it's a print thing. He says in the introduction:

Another of the project’s reasons for being has been to catch the differences between print and electronic media, and a working title for the project could have been, to paraphrase an important Walter Benjamin title, “The Work of Reproduction in an Age of Technological Art.”

We could view the PDF and HTML versions of “ODE” as pale simulations of the original paper and metal piece, as inferior to the original. We could also see the PDF and HTML versions as drawing a line between the original and this suite of visual poems that explore the line, meaning, shape, and materiality in poetry.

"ODE" takes the line and geometric right-angle into the realm of metalic material as well as the language of love. This, the final poem in the suite, has developed the ten thousand things to the point of metal and love.

What we have in this bunch of poems is not simply a suite of visual poems but considerable insight into how contemporary concerns broaden the notion of poetry and the poetic line into new directions that are relevant to expanded notions of language itself. Language itself is forever broadening not only words within it but what we understand language itself to be. And poetry needs to explore that territory or be quaint. Joe's poetry is very exciting not only in its statements but its form and its capacity for powerful statement and meditation within unexpected, fresh forms.

Visual poetry explores not simply image as language but just what we think language is. This is a time of profound change in how we think of language. We see code becoming an important part of language. Through DNA no less than computer code. For all that, it's still quite rare to come across a suite of visual poems that develop language as deeply as this suite does. The metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century developed the conceit, a notion of an extended metaphor. We can see what Joe does with the line in this sequence of poems as something like a conceit, an extended metaphor that links the notion of the line to many things and enriches our notion of the line.

We can speak of the language of cinema or the language of music, and so on, but the language of poetry is a bit different. Because poetry needs to comprehend all language, not be simply a particular approach to language. Poetry is the ultimate art of language. Which needs to comprehend the ways our ideas of language are changing. Joe has always understood that and Joe has always gone there with intrepid energy.